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The last of the U.S. National Park’s fee-free dates for 2015 is almost here! On November 11, 2016 entrance fees to the parks will be waived. So grab a picnic basket, field guide, some hiking poles and head to your nearest national park this Veterans Day.
If you haven’t visited your local U.S. National Park recently, don’t forget that September 24, 2016 is a fee-free day. In celebration of National Public Lands Day, most parks will be free. To find a park near you, visit their website and click on “Find Your Park” in the top left corner.
In the Spring of 2014 we found ourselves making the pilgrimage to George Washington’s home in Mount Vernon (Virginia). It is hard to describe how you feel viewing Washington’s deathbed, approaching his tomb in silence or seeing his ghastly false teeth! And then after touring their home, you sit on the porch overlooking the Potomac River realizing that you have traveled back to America’s early history. It was an awe-inspiring experience – one we certainly won’t forget.
We had a chance to see the El Galeón today. The ship is an authentic replica of a 16th century galleon that was part of Spain’s West Indies fleet. At 170-foot and 495 ton – it is pretty impressive!
The last of the U.S. National Park’s fee-free dates for 2015 is almost here! On November 11, 2015 entrance fees to the parks will be waived. So grab a picnic basket, field guide, some hiking poles and head to your nearest national park this Veterans Day.
On this date seven years ago…
We were exploring scenic Highway 391 in the Eastern Sierras (California). Our first stop had us camping just outside Bridgeport, where we were fortunate to visit Bodie State Historical Park. That morning we woke up to a rather chilly 19 degrees. In fact, in all our travels it was the first time our water hose had ever frozen!
Later that day we were on the road again, traveling from the chilly ghost town to the hellish landscape of Death Valley National Park, where the temperature was near 100 degrees. It was certainly one of the most memorable trips we have had to date.
We had an interesting “visit” to the USS Orleck in Lake Charles (LA). You can read more about it in the Our Travels section.
If you haven’t visited your local U.S. National Park recently, don’t forget that September 26, 2015 is a fee-free day! In celebration of National Public Lands Day, most parks will be free. To find a park near you, visit NPS’s website and click on “Find a Park” in the top left corner.
National Public Lands Day is the largest volunteer event to help clean up public lands. Want to lend a hand on that day and earn another free day (coupon)? More information about NPLD can be found at the Public Lands Day website.
Fulton Mansion State Historical Site is located in Rockport (Texas). At the time of our visit the mansion was closed for renovation, but we enjoyed a walk through the gardens and around the grounds. The visitor center located behind the mansion consists of a small museum, gift shop and film area regarding the history of the mansion. During the renovation, admission to the site is free. Parking is limited so only take a tow vehicle.
If you find yourself in Corpus Christi (TX) and have already toured the USS Lexington, make sure to plan a trip to the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History. The museum is situated on the scenic waterfront and offers visitors a glimpse of everything from dinosaurs to coastal ecology.
The museum has several great exhibits. One worth noting is the mudéjar-style dome ceiling in the Cultural Encounters exhibit. It was originally in a building in Spain – around 1535. So don’t forget to look up! 😉
Parking in front of the museum is limited as well as the parking area across the street. So make sure you leave the rig parked in a local campground and just take the tow vehicle. Current admission is $9 for adults and $7 for seniors/children.
In the summer of 2013 we planned a day-trip to Mansfield (MO) in search of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homestead. The drive itself was rather memorable as we found ourselves alongside Amish buggies.
The farmhouse that Laura and Almanzo built still stands – frozen in time. A calendar on the wall from the 1950s is a reminder that although times have changed, somethings should remain the same for posterity. Learning about their life and struggles makes you appreciate American willpower. They crossed the country in a wagon with a hundred dollars stashed in a box and made a new life for themselves in Missouri. That very box can be viewed at the museum located on the property.
Most people have heard of the “Little House” series, either through the books and later TV show. Yet most do not realize that Laura Ingalls Wilder did not begin writing down her stories until her daughter Rose encouraged her to. A little corner nook by their bedroom contains a small writing desk where she wrote her stories on paper tablets.
Now, a few generations later, we are reading her stories on electronic tablets. 🙂
If you find yourself in Rockport (TX) make time to visit the Texas Maritime Museum. The museum’s permanent exhibits focus on maritime history, boat and ship building, commercial and sports fishing, as well as modern-day oil and gas exploration. The second floor also has an incredible display of artwork devoted to Texas lighthouses. And the third floor is actually an observation tower with a great view of historic Rockport and Rockport Beach. There are a few larger exhibits outside. The museum also has a small library and gift shop.
Admission is $8 for adults and $6 for seniors. Parking is limited, so take your tow vehicle. And while you are there, don’t forget to visit the Rockport Aquarium (free) and Bay Education Center (free) – all within walking distance.
If you are in Corpus Christi (Texas), plan on visiting the USS Lexington. The Lexington, an Essex Class aircraft carrier, was commissioned in 1943. She was nicknamed the “Blue Ghost” by Tokyo Rose because of several reports of being sunk. At the time of her decommission in 1991, she was the oldest working carrier in the U.S. Navy.
There are five self-guided tours, each beginning and ending on the hangar deck. From aircraft, exhibits, movie theater, cafe and gift shop, be prepared to spend a day on board. One of the hidden gems we found was a ball cap (of the Lexington) worn by Commander Jerry Linenger on board the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1994.
Admission is $14 for adults and $12 for seniors. Gated parking across the street is $3.50 and requires a token at exit (which you pay for at Admissions). There is no RV parking, so only take your tow vehicle. There is free shuttle service from the pier to the hangar deck. The tour consists of a great deal of walking and climbing – sturdy shoes are recommended. And don’t forget your camera!
If you enjoy state parks and find yourself traveling in the Florida Panhandle, don’t forget to check out Big Lagoon State Park. The park consists of over 600 acres of land located near beautiful Perdido Key and the Gulf of Mexico. There are five miles of nature trails to enjoy the birds and other wildlife. And if hiking isn’t your thing, they have a wooden boardwalk and observation deck a short distance from a parking area. In addition to hiking and birding, the park is a great place for photography, bicycling, fishing or beach-combing.
Big Lagoon State Park also offers a boat ramp, canoe launch, picnic pavilions, amphitheater and campground. The campground will accommodate rigs up to 4o’; however, be wary if you have a Big Rig as some sites may require some effort to back-in.
Entrance to the park is $6 per vehicle (up to 8 people) and use of the boat launch is $12 (up to 8 people). The park is open every day from 8AM to sunset.
We haven’t seen a UFO since our stay in Roswell (NM)… so imagine our delight to see this cool UFO house in Gulf Breeze (FL). And if you look closely you can see the current occupants are peering out a window!
If you find yourself in Pensacola during the holidays, you have to stop by the Pensacola Lighthouse located on the Naval Air Station and right across from the Naval Aviation Museum. The lighthouse and buildings are decorated for Christmas. Just about every room has a decorated tree!
The admission fee ($6 for adults, $4 for seniors) includes the lighthouse and museum exhibits. And, did I mention the lighthouse is haunted? 😉
On this date three years ago…
We were in Texas, enjoying the beautiful Hill Country. We made a trip to Austin to visit the Texas Forces Military Museum. This museum is located inside Camp Mabry and has a variety of exhibits – from the history of the Alamo to a piece of the Berlin Wall to modern weaponry.
The fun thing about traveling the country is that you are bound to met people from an area you’ve visited. When we come across some Austinites we always joke about meeting Audie Murphy there. Usually confused by our encounter with this famous hero, we have to elaborate about posing with the Audie Murphy statue (across from the military museum). Unfortunately we have yet to met one that has visited the museum!
Most military bases have some sort of museum and they are often free (but rely on donations) to the public. There is a great deal of history at these museums – and you will be surprised what you see! If there is a base in or near your area, look online to see if they have a museum. Because you just never know when you’ll run into the Three Modern Nomads – chances are we’ve already been there! 😉
The last of the U.S. National Park’s fee-free dates for 2014 is here! During these times, entrance fees to the parks will be waived. So grab a picnic basket, field guide, some hiking poles and head to your nearest national park this Veterans Day.
November 11, 2014
For more information and trip planning links, visit the National Park Service’s website.
If you are or planning to be in Florida in a few days, make sure to visit one of the many beautiful state parks the Sunshine State has to offer. November 11, 2014 is Veterans Day and admission is free at all the Florida State Parks.*
For more information or to locate a park near you, visit the Florida State Park website.
*Skyway Fishing Pier State Park does not participate in the free admission.
Over the years we’ve had our own unexplained ghostly adventures… like our time spent at Bodie State Historic Park (CA). Bodie is a modern-day ghost town. When the California State Park system took over Bodie, it left all the buildings as they stood. This is one of the most unforgettable places we have ever been. There is so much history there it consumes you. You can almost feel towns folk walking along the street beside you. Peering through windows you feel invisible eyes staring back. It is a must-see for anyone visiting the Eastern Sierras.
Another place to note is Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield (MO). This was the first major Civil War battle west of the Mississippi. The park is a five-mile driving tour and you are literally driving back through time. In fact, at one point I think I really did! I had gotten out of the truck at one stop to take a photo of two cannons in a field and when I walked past the first cannon I was overcome with chills. I assumed it was from stepping out of the air-conditioning into the ninety-plus degree heat. But after I took a photo of the farthest cannon, I walked back to the first and I got chills and goosebumps again. I stepped toward the cannon to take a photo and swear I heard someone shout “NO” in my ear. Boy, did I hustle myself back to the safety of the Silverado!
Although we have visited Pensacola Lighthouse (FL) several times, we returned to visit last year to see the lighthouse decorated for Christmas. Even though the lighthouse is haunted, I didn’t see the Ghost of Christmas Past – but I did feel a section of cool air as I entered the Keeper’s room. The last time I visited there had a similar experience in that area. And on the previous visit I had also felt someone watching me in the basement. So even after telling myself I wasn’t going in the basement this last visit, I did. However, they had a clothed dummy sitting at the desk at the base of the stairs and it startled me so much I jumped backwards onto the steps again!
Then there was the time we planned a trip to see Appomattox Court House National Historic Park (VA). Those a little dusty with their history may recall the name but not the significance of the location. This was the surrender grounds, where Generals Lee and Grant put an end to the Civil War. The building where this historic moment occurred, the McLean House, still stands. After touring the house we went outside to one of the other buildings. No sooner had we stepped through the doorway when we found ourselves quickly stepping back outside. Hard to explain why we all got goosebumps, but it just felt very wrong in there. We resumed our tour of the park and enjoyed the other buildings without problem. At least for a little while…I have a tendency to lag behind as I read every plaque and take a number of photos. We were visiting the new jail and the other two were already heading outside while I was alone upstairs. I was snapping a few photos of the window when I felt a chill. Looking down I saw I had goosebumps again. I shrugged it off until I heard a cough come from the cell. Then I headed down the stairs as quickly as I could!
But the eeriest thing happened just a few weeks ago while touring the USS Alabama (AL). The battleship is about seven hundred feet long from stem to stern and if you take the self-guided tours it will take about two hours. Parts of the ship were rather warm and stuffy and I quickly found myself finishing the tour alone. Although there were other people touring the ship, I managed to always stay a room or two apart. I was getting a little dehydrated and just poked my head in a few rooms to quickly finish that section of the tour. As I looked in one room, an officer’s quarters I believe, I noted the typewriter on the desk and was about to head to the next room when I heard the sound of an old typewriter. It was just two keystrokes. My first thought was that another room nearby had some sort of voiced display and a visitor had activated it. So I quickly continued with the tour. But after I finished that section of the tour, I saw there was nothing like that. Where did that distinctive sound come from?
Sometimes when you visit historic sites you get more awareness of history than you paid admission for… 😉
In the Fall of 2008 we were fortunate to be exploring California’s Gold Country. One day trip had us visiting the Northstar Mine Powerhouse Museum in Grass Valley (CA). The museum had hundreds of exhibits, including a stamp mill and the largest Pelton Wheel ever constructed.
Along the self-guided tour, I remember thinking how difficult it must have been to work with the huge and often dangerous equipment during the mining process. A hazardous profession dedicated to finding a little lump of glittery color.
After an hour in the museum I was glad to be outside again and cross the bridge to the little picnic area. It was a pleasant day to just sit there and soak up the golden sun.
Today I turn on the television and see others using similar method, once again in search of a little speck of gold. Funny how we have a way of falling back into history.
In the Fall of 2009 we found ourselves in the Blue Ridge Mountains (Virginia). There are several recreational areas tucked away in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. One hidden gem is Cave Mountain Lake Recreation Area.
We were exploring the back-roads and looking for some autumn foliage when we discovered this scenic lake. The weather was cool and there was very little Fall color in the area. The park was weeks away from closing for the season and had only a few day visitors during our stay. We opted to take a brief hike and found that the park was abundant with wildlife.
Places like this gets lost on us at times and it makes one wonder how many hidden gems have been passed by…
While driving along Hwy. 98 the other day, we discovered the Baldwin Country Heritage Museum in Elberta (AL). If you find yourself in the region you will definitely want to find time to stop in.
The museum offers a variety of indoor exhibits as well as outbuildings and farming equipment. Outbuildings include a general store, old schoolhouse, church, blacksmith shop, potato shed and pole barn. The goal of the museum is to share and preserve the cultural heritage of the community. They do a wonderful job of showcasing the variety of crops and specialties of region – from potatoes and oysters to turpentine and honey.
The museum is currently open Wednesday – Saturday and has free admission (although donations are appreciated to keep things running). Parking is adequate for a tow vehicle; however, if the museum is busy, you may find trouble parking the Big Rig.
For more information you can visit their page at FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/BCHeritageM
If you have ever been traveling on I-10 through Alabama, then you have probably seen the USS Alabama as you crossed Mobile Bay. Next time you are in the area, make sure you have time to stop and visit this amazing ship and all the exhibits at Battleship Memorial Park.
The battleship is huge! It is just under 700 feet long from stem to stern and if you take all three self-guided tours (red, green and yellow) it will take you two hours. And believe me, after you tour the USS Alabama, you can skip the gym for a week… or two! It requires a great deal of climbing to tour the entire ship. There are some great exhibits on board and one item to note is a piece of the USS Arizona.
After you tour the battleship there is a path that leads to the aircraft pavilion. Inside are several exhibits, including a piece of brick from the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. Also on the property is the USS Drum, which is the oldest American submarine on display in the world. This submarine is actually on land and you have to go up several flights of stairs to tour it. Make sure you save some energy to tour the USS Drum because it well worth it!
The property also includes a gift shop and small restaurant. Outside exhibits vary – from aircraft to tanks. There is a nice picnic area along the bay, as well as a pier.
The cost of admission to tour the USS Alabama, USS Drum and aircraft pavilion is $15 for adults and $13 for seniors. Parking is $2 to enter Battleship Memorial Park. There is adequate RV parking. If you don’t have the time to tour the vessels or can’t walk/climb, you can pay the nominal parking fee and still see them from the park.
For more additional information and hours, you can visit their website at: http://www.ussalabama.com/visitor_info.php
If you find yourself near Milton (FL), not far from I-10 is the West Florida Railroad Museum. This is a great little stop if you have the time. The museum area occupies an old freight and passenger depot that was built in the early 1900s at the site of the original 1882 depot. They have several cars in their collection, including dining cars, flat car, box cars, former Pullman sleeper and two cabooses. They also have a model railroad building, an outdoor scale railroad and gift shop.
The museum is free to the public, but does rely on donations to stay open. It is operated by volunteers so the museum is only open on Fridays and Saturdays. Parking is limited and there is no room to park a RV – so if you go, take the tow!
For directions and hours, please visit their website at: http://wfrm.org/index.html
During the start of Summer 2010, we found ourselves on-the-road. In need of a break we decided to stop at a few of our favorite places in Louisiana. Unfortunately, while we were there, the oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico occurred. This changed some of our plans, as coastal communities were busy with rescue, cleanup and media crews.
There was still plenty to see and do, from gardens and casinos to exploring the back roads. We even managed to partake in our first crawdad “buffet”. Which is was quite an event in itself. I never imagined seeing adults wearing bibs and gloves, eating buckets of crawdads! But that is one of the cool things about being a Full-Time RVer… detours are no obstacle and new experiences are always welcomed. 🙂
If you find yourself in Baltimore, make sure you plan a visit to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum. This is the birthplace of American railroading! They have some of the oldest railroad equipment on display that truly transport you back to early days of railroading.
During the time of our visit, they were celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War with a special exhibit “The War Came By Train”. A very interesting series of displays from different views.
Although we have been to bigger train and transportation museums, this one stands-out with the incredible roundhouse. A must-see for train enthusiasts.
In addition to the numerous trains and rolling stock on display, there is also a model train gallery, working model train exhibits, dining ware exhibit, clock and code exhibit, snack bar and gift shop. In addition, you can ride the train for one mile.
Admission to the museum is rather high and unfortunately we went during an event and it was even higher. So call ahead to make sure it’s standard admission. The train ride is an additional charge, although I honestly wouldn’t recommend this because the view is very disappointing.
Parking is free. They advertise RV and Bus Parking, but the museum is located in a section of town filled with one-way and tight-cornered streets. We found ample parking for our dually in Lot B. So make sure you have a map in the event your GPS fails to keep up with the web of streets.
For more information: www.borail.org
If you are near the Eastern Shore of Maryland, you should plan to visit the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. This waterfront museum consists of 18 acres and is definitely worth a visit if you love boats and the water.
They not only have the Hooper Strait Lighthouse on property, but Point Lookout Tower, several boats and larger historic items; in addition, they have a boat shop where you can see apprentices working on projects, several museum buildings with multiple galleries/exhibits, a wharf, a boat-tour of the Chesapeake, Mitchell house, cabin, heirloom garden and more. Oh, and did I mention driving under the drawbridge? 😉
Admission to the museum is $15 for adults and $12 for seniors. The cost actually includes two-day admission so you don’t have to hurry to see everything. We easily spent 3 hours there and probably would have spent longer if we hadn’t other plans that day. They have benches near the lighthouse and it was peaceful just sitting there watching the boats and birds across the river.
Parking is not a problem for tow vehicles, however, you might call ahead and see if there is an event before you take the RV as Big Rig parking could be an issue during busy times.
The town of St. Michaels is very quaint with seafood restaurants and shops along the main street and waterfront.
For more information: http://www.cbmm.org/index.htm
In February we made a trip to see the Niña and the Pinta docked in Perdido Key (FL). Unfortunately between the heavy rain and limited over-sized parking, we weren’t able to visit the ships. Imagine our delight when we visited St. Michaels (MD) today and not only got to see the ships but also had a chance to hop on board. I’m looking forward to crossing paths with these two tall ships again. 🙂
Mount Vernon is located about twenty minutes south of Washington, DC. The property is situated along the Potomac River and if a tour of the Estate and 50-acre plantation isn’t enough to keep you busy, there is also a working pioneer farm, Washington’s tomb, a cruise along the Potomac, theater, museum, education center and gift shops on the property; in addition, Washington’s working gristmill and distillery are just three miles down the road.
Even if you are not a history buff, the awe of walking Washington’s grounds will transport you back to early America! Admission includes a tour of the Estate. However, general tours are based on entrance time and will be time-stamped on your ticket. So be prepared to wait two or more hours until you can view the Estate. Yet you won’t be bored waiting. Mount Vernon is a full-day experience!
Inside the Estate (general tour) you will see the first two floors, including the guest room where Lafayette stayed, the very bed Washington died in and… the key to the Bastille! If you pay extra, you can go see additional areas of the Estate. And don’t forget to take a moment to sit in the chairs on the back porch to enjoy the view of the Potomac.
Admission to Mount Vernon also includes entrance to George Washington’s Grist Mill and Distillery, which is just down the road. The grist mill tour surprised us as they actually started the wheel! It was noisy, but fascinating to see the stones in action. The trail from the grist mill leads to the distillery which actually produces Washington’s “recipe” a couple times each year.
One day admission at Mount Vernon is $18 for adults and $17 for seniors. Other options include audio tours, special Estate tours and a 45-minute cruise along the Potomac. Souvenir guide books are also available for $12. Parking is free. Although Mount Vernon advertises RV parking, it is a bit limited and not exactly Big Rig friendly. The grist mill and distillery have limited parking. You would be better off taking your tow vehicle.
Do not delay! You must add a visit to George Washington’s Mount Vernon to your Bucket List!
If you find yourself near Baltimore, don’t forget to take a day to visit Fort McHenry National Monument by the harbor. The fort and grounds have a fascinating history… and the Battle of Baltimore in 1814 was the inspiration for Francis Scott Key to write the Star-Spangled Banner!
Entrance into the fort is $7 per adult; children under 15 are free. You can visit the park without paying admission – although you will only have access to the picnic grounds, visitor’s center, gift shop and movie.
Now the area is not Big Rig friendly, so don’t even think about taking your RV! If you are staying in the area you can take the water taxi or drive (but follow directions carefully as there is a great deal of traffic).
For directions and additional information, please visit their website at: http://www.nps.gov/fomc/index.htm
Doing a little Spring cleaning (okay, someone is really optimist for Spring around here!) and came across a collection of glittery vials from the summer we panned for gold along the South Yuba River.
Bridgeport covered bridge across the South Yuba River, just outside Penn Valley (CA), is definitely a must see when visiting Gold Country. Gold panning (“pans and hands”) is allowed along this stretch of the river. A wonderful place for a relaxing day trip, the South Yuba River State Park offers visitors hiking trails, visitor’s center, picnic area and restrooms. A short walk from the main parking area you will find an old cemetery and barn exhibit (with old wagons).
While you are there, stop in to the visitor’s center and pick up a gold pan kit and try it yourself! The volunteers and park officials will be happy to provide you with information on the technique. You will be amazed to see that the water under the bridge is literally glittering with gold flakes! Of course, it’s not enough to buy a new RV, but you’ll find your day at the Yuba priceless. 🙂
Earlier today we made a trip to see the Niña and the Pinta docked in Perdido Key (FL). Unfortunately between the heavy rain and limited over-sized parking, we weren’t able to visit the ships. I did manage to get a photo of them as we crossed the bridge off the island. We saw the Niña several years ago along the Atlantic coast, yet we thought it would be fun to see it again.
The Niña is a replica of the ship Columbus sailed to the New World in 1492. The Pinta, a newer ship, is actually larger than the original design.
For more information on the ships and their port schedule, visit their website: http://www.thenina.com/
Maybe we will cross paths with them again as we travel the U.S. 🙂
If you plan on visiting one of the many beautiful Florida State Parks* the Sunshine State has to offer this year, there are a couple of dates to keep in mind.
September 8, 2014 is International Literacy Day. On this day, admission is free to anyone who shows their library card or donates a new/gently-used family-appropriate book at the park.
November 11, 2014 is Veterans Day and admission is free at all the parks.
For more information or to locate a park near you, visit the Florida State Park website .
*Skyway Fishing Pier State Park does not participate in either of these dates.
Fort Morgan State Historic Park is just west of Gulf Shores (AL) and overlooks Mobile Bay. The fort was completed in 1834 and was occupied during several wars including the Civil War.
Although most folks might not be familiar with the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864, they have probably heard Admiral Farragut’s famous quote, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” From Battery Thomas (near the fort) you can see where the U.S.S. Techumseh sank after it struck a torpedo (mine). A buoy marks its resting place.
This state park is definitely a must-see for history and military buffs. It offers views of the bay and Gulf of Mexico, in addition to a handful of natural gas rigs and Sand Island Lighthouse.
Admission to the park includes the fort, museum-gift shop, outside structures and beach. Current price is $7 for adults and $5 for seniors. There is adequate parking; however to view some of the other structures you need to drive down a gravel road. So it would be better to take your tow vehicle. There is a ferry that can take you from Dauphin Island to/from Fort Morgan; however, weather and tide can effect whether or not they will allow RVs to board.
For directions and visiting hours, visit: http://fortmorgan.org/